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Bob Spaugh World War II photographs


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Bob (Bobbie) Spaugh was born on January 18, 1916 in Dallas, Texas to Arthur and Lila Spaugh. He married Nancy Beth Spaugh and the couple lived in Fort Worth, Texas, where Bob worked as a chemist. Spaugh registered for the draft on October 16, 1940 and during World War II he was assigned to a secret military project on San Jose Island. On June 6, 1947 Spaugh was discharged from the U.S. army and returned to Texas. He died on March 16, 1974.

San Jose Island, the second largest of the Pearl Islands off the southern coast of Panama, was home to a secret chemical weapons testing program during World War II. Beginning in January 1944, the project was conducted by the Army's Chemical Warfare Service. The United States wanted to test the effects of chemical weapons in a tropical environment for possible use in the Pacific Theater. The island was selected for its near "lack of human habitation, safety distances to nearby islands, tropical jungle, good water, absence of disease and poisonous snakes, and accessibility to nearby airfields controlled by the US."

More than 400 enlisted men were stationed on the island by mid-1945, as well as nearly 200 officers and civilians from the United States, Panama and other countries. Many of the Army troops were Puerto Rican soldiers. U.S. soldiers tested chemical munitions including phosgene, cyanogen chloride and mustard gas. Some reports also include VX nerve gas and sarin.

Testing continued on San Jose Island until 1947 when Americans were evicted by the Panamanian Government under pressure from domestic protesters looking to end the controversial test and American occupation of the island. The project's secret designation was lifted in 1993.


Pugliese, D. (2002). Panama: Bombs on the Beach. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 58(4), 55–60.

"US Chemical Weapons in Panama: A Dangerous Legacy." Revista Envío - US Chemical Weapons in Panama: A Dangerous Legacy. Accessed August 8, 2023.

The Bob Spaugh World War II photographs consist of nearly 200 images documenting an Americna soldier's experience on San Jose Island, Panama, "Test Tube Island", working on a seret project involving testing chemical warfare. Images feature aerial views of the island and other spots around Panama, interior shots of the jungle, the beaches, and other natural features of the island including indigenous people and animal life. There are images of Albrook Field, the officer's quarters, headquarters, the chapel, the hospital, the "enlisted men's area San Jose Project", technical division's camp, graphic arts building, the bar at the offices club, sections of building and labs. Several images are captioned and soldiers are often identified in the photographs. A copy of the illustrated centerfold from Chemical Warfare Bulletin features several of the images from Spaugh's collection of photographs.

Many of the photographs feature various army staff, including Spaugh himself, engaged in film production. Also included are photographs of soldiers on leave in Los Angeles, California.

Images represent a broad and largely-unpublished visual resource into an American chemical testing program and procedures.

Sold by McBride Rare Books, 2023.

Accessioned as 2023.000033. Samantha Dodd processed, wrote and encoded the finding aid, 2023. Photographs are grouped in folders as recieved.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Samantha Dodd
Finding Aid Date
2023 August 8
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

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Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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Photographs, 1944-1945.
Box 1 Folder 1-8
Maroon clamshell box, undated.
Box 1 Folder 9
Scope and Contents

Maroon cloth clamshell box with manuscript label on top: "Pictures of Bob Spaugh Army Life on Pearl Island during WW2." House the photographs. Box is poor condition.

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